Frisky Reads: The Fangirl’s Guide To The Galaxy By Sam Maggs

I guess you know you’re a fangirl, no matter how reluctant, when you read someone saying that “with ‘Doctor Who,’ you can start with the 2005 reboot pilot ‘Rose’, or you can skip directly to 2011 and go with Matt Smith’s first episode ‘The Eleventh Hour’,” and you think to yourself, What?! NO! Ditto that if someone says that if you want to get a friend into gaming you should “start off slow with something easy… Like a Nintendo game,” and get actually, deep-down offended. Because all hail Nintendo. Xbox and Playstation are non-entities to me.

Sam Maggs’ instructional guide for eager fandom newbies, The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy, hammers the point home over and over that fangirls are women who have unbridled enthusiasm and really, really strong opinions about geeky stuff, or, really, anything. In an interview in the book, Beth Revis has this awesome definition for “fangirl”:

“A fangirl has no shame: she loves what she loves and doesn’t apologize for it, she doesn’t restrain herself, she’s not meek. Girls are often told to be quiet little ladies. A fangirl doesn’t care about being quiet. She does exactly what she wants, courageously, to celebrate the things she loves.”

I’ve been reluctant to call myself a fangirl, love for Zelda, “Star Wars,” “Doctor Who,” Neil Gaiman, costuming, and many if not all things sci-fi and fantasy notwithstanding. Part of it is that I do not squee, which seems to be an important part of fangirling, and I’m kind of over “YAASSS” right now, and overall I am people-averse. Fangirls are community members, and I’m not; I prefer to keep my enthusiasm to myself unless I can dissect it sort of academically, because when my enthusiasm is responded to with equal enthusiasm, I figure the person responding must be as weird as me, and frankly, I have enough weird for the whole room. We can’t disrupt the weird balance, here.

But Maggs’ book made me realize: I might be a fangirl anyway, because seriously, if you’re going to call Nintendo games easy and intro-level, I’m going to call games on other systems convoluted. Because seriously. And no, there’s no skipping to the Eleventh Doctor. If I watched “The Shakespeare Code,” you have to, too. (Besides, you’ll miss “Midnight” and “Partners in Crime” and the whole Eccleston season and this is not acceptable to me.) In other words, I have strong opinions about geeky stuff, not to mention a lot of other things, and if “fangirl” means that you feel unwaveringly sure in your opinions and revel in your enthusiasm, that you don’t take a backseat when conversations about things you care about are taking place, well, that’s pretty empowering and cool.

But, of course, Maggs’ book isn’t just a discussion of the Theory of Fangirl, it’s a real field guide, complete with dictionaries of fangirl lingo, a how-to for fanfic writing, and a huge section on conventions, complete with a directory of cons, extremely helpful tips about what to expect and how to survive at a con, and con aftercare. She discusses how to get your friends to fangirl with you, suggests entry points for geeky hobbies, and lists great female characters across various media.

And at the heart of the book, there’s a guide to fangirl feminism, put in simple terms and boiling down to basically: Be nice to everyone, respect differences, empathize with and listen to other people. It’s not spectacularly new information for people who spend a lot of time on the internet and have engaged in these discussions already, but it’s important to include in a fandom instructional guide nonetheless. After all, we’re talking about a community of people who can relate on a deeply emotional level to characters who are of fictional origin and fictional species – aliens, vampires, pirates, etc. – and if we can’t use that experience to relate on a deeply emotional level to our fellow human beings because of their comparatively miniscule differences to ourselves, we aren’t really doing the whole being-a-human thing right.

Through and through, Maggs manages to talk about feminism, fangirling, cons, lingo, and the general idea that you should be yourself, and do that unapologetically, with a great deal of lightheartedness and fun. It’s an overwhelming community to enter, precisely because so many people in it are so strong-headed, but Maggs provides a gentle and sympathetic entrance to it. She’s persuasive about the reasons we should all embrace our fandom, seek out people who are passionate about the things we are, and run with our crazy ideas.

The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy is available from Quirk Books this week.

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